Just two months ago, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and Neuralink, tweeted about how the term, “billionaire,” is being used by the media to, “devalue and denigrate the subject.” Essentially, he related the use of “billionaire” to the use of a slur, meant to demean and ruin another’s reputation and worth- he is correct, but this changed connotation is one that should stay.
Billionaires are often idolized and worshipped in our society. They shouldn’t be. For one person to own so much money means that there are millions without any. This can be somewhat traced to the faux-congruency of the terms “millionaire” and “billionaire”, as it undermines just how much a billion dollars is worth. People automatically relate the term to millionaire, and without the visual of numbers, think of billion as a nebulous concept of “a lot of money.” In reality, a million seconds would be around 11 minutes while a billion seconds would be nearly 32 years. A million inches would be about two walks around the circumference of Paris while a billion inches would be around two round trips from the US to Paris. Mathematically put, a billion is a thousand times a million, and that creates a massive difference.
And of the 2,754 billionaires existing today, according to the Wealth-X Billionaire Census of 2018, most own well over a billion, owning a combined net worth of around 7.67 trillion dollars. Russia currently has a gross domestic product of 1.283 trillion. This means that if all billionaires liquidated their assets together, they would essentially be able to buy out Russia – a country two times larger than the US – six times, and still have around a trillion left over. And these billionaires only account for less than .05% of the world’s population. I hope I am not alone in finding alarm at this fact.
Where the problem really lies is in what these billionaires do with their immense wealth. Whether these billionaires gain their money in an ethical manner is another topic, but it is currently more relevant to consider where this profit and money goes. Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder, has a net worth (total asset – debt/liabilities) of $112 billion, gaining around $19.3 billion a year. To put into perspective, an average american household earns $72,000 yearly. In January, Bezos donated $33 million to TheDream.us, helping send students to college. Alone, this seems like a huge amount of money, while in fact it is only 1.71% of his wealth; that’s equal to the average household donating $1,231.
Sure, I don’t think that all billionaires are horrible people. There are billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, who donated $45 billion, and Bill and Melinda Gates, who donated $27 billion (independent.co.uk). However, they are only a minority of the numerous.
There is an undeniable trend that billionaires most often gain money through the exploitation of human labor and taking advantage of the hierarchical capitalism present. Those who refrain from donation and giving back to the community are hoarding money that they won’t even be able to use for themselves. By hoarding, billionaires essentially ruin the economy for everyone else by reducing the money in circulation.
I also believe that it is immoral to stockpile wealth in such a narrow population and parameter while a large portion of the world lives in poverty. People shouldn’t have money resting in their banks, never to be used, while others are starving and without roofs.
While I’m not an expert on economy or the current economic sphere of the US, I can still see that there is a problem with how wealth is allocated in our country. The poor continue to remain desolate while the rich only get more affluent. If the only solution is to create a wealth ceiling (where people with income over a certain value are taxed at almost a 100% rate) in order to promote the circulation of wealth and stop hoarding, then perhaps this needs to be considered. Millionaires are those who benefited from the capitalist economy; billionaires are those who use their power to exploit the system instead of fixing it.
Image courtesy of Creative Commons.